In a triumphant return to the stage, after over a year of COVID-19 controlled constrictions, The Clemson Players performed the Shakespearean classic, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The classic tale of magically mangled love triangles, jealous fairies and an ass-inine theatrical troupe was gracefully performed by The Clemson Players this week in the Bellamy Theatre, starring Charis Tefft as a gender-bent Lysander, Brady M. Hayes as Demetrius, Ivy Munnerlyn as Hermia and Katherine Cannon as Helena. The incredibly talented and hilarious quartet is matched by the rest of their castmates to bring together this amazing show.
In case you have somehow avoided reading this play up to now, here’s a brief summary. Hermia’s father tries to force her to marry Demetrius, whom she does not love. Instead, Hermia runs away with her true love, Lysander. Hermia’s childhood friend, Helena, is in love with Demetrius, and she tells him of Hermia and Lysander’s plan, and they both chase after Hermia and Lysander. As the four protagonists enter the forest, Robin Goodfellow (also known as Puck), servant of the fairy king Oberon, makes it so that both Demetrius and Lysander fall in love with Helena, not Hermia. Along the way, Goodfellow also turns Nick Bottom, a charismatic actor, into a donkey-headed man, and makes Titania, the queen of fairies, fall in love with Bottom. Naturally, confusion and hilarious chaos ensue, until eventually Oberon orders Goodfellow to undo his effects, leaving our four protagonists in love with their respective partners, and Bottom back into his regular self.
As we’ve all experienced in our English classes, Shakespeare’s works can be incredibly difficult to fully understand and interpret. You can imagine, then, how difficult it can be to act it out, yet our Clemson Players leave nothing to be desired. The actors’modern cadence and dictation with Shakespearean dialogue is nothing short of impressive and allows for a deeper enjoyment by a much wider audience. Their ability to execute Shakespeare is nowhere near where the actors’ talents end, though. The chemistry between our four protagonists, as well as Nick Bottom and his troupe, led to some great laughs from the crowd, my personal favorite being Helena’s threatening of pepper spray against her magically enthralled suitors.
Sans the fairies, the costumes were all modern-day clothing, with many of the side characters wearing simple street clothes. Ultimately, I didn’t mind this decision; it did lend itself to some hilarious usage of modern-day props, but I couldn’t see a good reason for it. They kept the setting in Athens, Ancient Greece, and gave the fairies fitting costumes, so I felt like it slightly distracted me from the show.
Whatever distraction the costuming questions caused was immediately nullified by the set, lighting and sound design. The stage was fairly small, and the set was nothing incredibly complex, but it allowed for extremely compelling blocking. The lighting and sound worked in unison to add more dimensions to the solid base of set design present, reminding me just how important tech design and operation are to theatre.
As I said, the acting of our main cast is phenomenal. There were times when I felt some of the side characters either lacked that clarity in their delivery or sometimes tried to be too clear, leading to some excessive moments. Nothing so contemptuous that it would deter from the rest of the show, though. All members of the cast showcased tremendous talent and competence, just some had slightly less consistency than others.
After the show, I was able to interview Grant Blevins, a freshman communications major with a minor in theatre, who played Bottom. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was his first production with The Clemson Players, but Blevins has previous theatre experience from high school. Blevins’ experience clearly showed through as his performance was one of, if not my favorite of the night. I started out by asking Blevins about his general thoughts on the cast, crew and the overall professionalism of the theatre department, to which he had nothing but high praise.
In response to the difficulty of performing Shakespeare, Blevins made clear the amount of work that was put in by the cast to accomplish such a fluid production. “We spent hour after hour breaking everything down, each line after another,” Blevins said. When you remember these actors are all college students like us, you gain a new appreciation for just how much work and effort they expended on this production.
Of course, I had to address the elephant on stage, COVID-19. I asked Blevins about his thoughts on how the pandemic has affected his view of theatre and how it felt to be back on the stage. Like most of us, he’s thrilled to be able to take part in these proper productions again. Blevins said, “You can have a show, but without an audience, it isn’t really a show.” This return of large-scale audiences (so long as they follow mask protocols) has shown that the pandemic not only failed to slow down actors but failed to quell the passion of audience members as well.
Beyond being an incredible performance, this show has instilled in me a greater hope for the future of theatre not just in Clemson, but our society as a whole. In the end, I cannot praise this production enough. Live theatre has been one of the most hard-hit industries during the pandemic, so it’s absolutely lovely to see that the acting scene at Clemson has only gotten sharper as they’ve awaited their return to the stage. I give this production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”a 9/10, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for our Clemson Players.